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Know the West

Can computers solve Indian problems?

  This winter, 112 years of sloppy accounting by the Bureau of Indian Affairs fell into Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's lap (HCN, 3/15/99). Now, his department has bounced back with a million-dollar solution. On June 25, the department will unveil the Trust Asset Accounting Management System (TAAMS). The software program is designed to sort out the many owners of land on Indian reservations and give them money the Bureau has collected over the years from farmers, ranchers and others who lease Indian land. After the year 2000, the system will go to 12 area offices, serving 123 tribes. But, according to a 27-page General Accounting Office report, requested by Colorado Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the computer program is a waste of money. The report, Indian Trust Funds: Interior Lacks Assurance That Trust Improvement Plan Will Be Effective, says that Interior did not explain what it wanted from the program, consider other options, or estimate future economic problems the program may cause. Interior spokesman Rex Hackler counters that the GAO finished its study in November 1998, before Interior finished the program. Computer professionals will train and supervise local Bureau officials in the use of the program. Says Hackler, "I am confident it will work."

For a free copy of the report including Interior's response, write the

United States General Accounting Office, P.O. Box 37050, Washington, D.C. 20013, call 202/512-3000, or find the report on the GAO Web site at www.gao.gov/new.items/ai99053.pdf

* Keri Watson